NPS Director's Order 12: Conservation Planning, Environmental Impact Analysis and Decision Making
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Arlington House, the Robert E. Lee Memorial, VA5.5 Environmental Assessments — Public Involvement

Regional Directors are delegated the authority to approve the EA before its release for public review. Regardless of the specific requirements described in this section, NPS should always make a “diligent” effort to involve the interested and affected public (1506.6 (a)) on a proposal for which an EA is prepared. This is a requirement of NEPA, and in the NPS, it means public scoping sessions, public review of EAs, responses to comments, and other measures normally reserved for EISs if the issuing office believes such measures are needed to comply with the diligence standard.

A. Scoping

Scoping, or requesting early input before the analysis formally begins, is required on all EAs prepared by NPS. Although public scoping is encouraged where an interested or affected public exists, issuing offices are only required to involve appropriate federal, state, and local agencies and any affected Indian tribe. It is up to you to decide the method of scoping.

B. Public review

The EA is to be sent out for review by the interested and affected public, including affected agencies and tribes, for a minimum of 30 days. The notice that an EA is available for review is, at a minimum, to be published in the local newspaper of record, posted on the NPS web site, noticed in the Federal Register, or otherwise made broadly known to the public. This action, coupled with public distribution through mailing, begins the 30-day review period. The notice should appear in a visible location in the paper (i.e., not in the legal notices section), and anyone who requests a copy of the EA should receive one, until a reasonable number of copies have been distributed. Those who request a copy after this time should be referred to the nearest library or NPS or other government office that has a record copy. It is acceptable to send an electronic copy or make an electronic copy available if the person requesting has access to such a copy.

C. Public meetings

Workshops, meetings, hearings, or other opportunities to give oral input on an NPS EA are not required, but they may be appropriate if there is large-scale interest in a proposal. If such a meeting is scheduled, it should take place no sooner than 15 days from the time it is advertised or the notice of availability of the EA is published in the local paper of record, whichever is later. The review period for EAs must extend a minimum of 15 days beyond the date of such a meeting. NPS officials should track comments made at public meetings for later response. Any reliable means of advertising the meeting, including but not limited to publishing in a visible location in the local paper of record, is acceptable.

D. Response to comments

If reviewers send written comments, or submit comments at the discretionary public meetings, workshops, and so forth, the issuing office should screen them to determine whether any important new issues or reasonable alternatives or mitigation measures have been suggested. If major substantive issues not covered adequately in the EA are raised, or new alternatives the park wishes to consider are suggested, the EA must be rewritten to incorporate them and reissued for a second 30-day review upon completion. If any of the issues point to the potential for significant impacts, an NOI to prepare an EIS should be prepared and submitted to the Federal Register. If commentors correct or add factual information that has no bearing on the determination of significant impact, the information should be added to the text of the EA when possible. The issuing office may also respond through the use of errata sheets to comments that do not increase the degree of impact described in the EA. The combination of the EA and the errata sheets forms the complete and final record on which the FONSI or decision to prepare an EIS is based. (The FONSI itself is not an appropriate document to use to respond to public comments.)

Issuing offices are encouraged to make text changes correcting or adding factual information to the EA and attaching the EA, along with the responses to public comments, to the approved FONSI to complete the administrative record.

E. Supplemental EAs

CEQ does not recognize supplemental EAs, because an EA should be concise enough so that it can easily be rewritten to accommodate major changes. You should not issue supplements to EAs; either rewrite and reissue the EA, or follow the approach outlined in section 5.5 (D) to finalize the EA.

F. Completing the EA process

The combination of the EA, the errata sheets correcting statements of fact as a result of public review of the EA, and responses to public comments form the complete and final record on which the FONSI or decision to prepare an EIS is based. You must notify the public that the EA process has been completed and a FONSI issued, if such is the case. Notification may be through mailings, publication in a visible location in the local paper of record, a Federal Register notice, a news release, or a meeting with concerned agencies and individuals. No waiting period is required following the notice that the completed EA and FONSI are available before the proposal is implemented, unless section 6.3 (G) of this handbook applies.

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